Every year the CBC holds a week-long radio debate on five books selected as the most significant published in Canada during the previous year. This year one of the finalists was The Right to Be Cold by Sheila Watt-Sloutier. It was eliminated in the third round. What is interesting is the argument presented by the debater who broke the tie to eliminate it: “My mom says it has too much information.”
It is a book that presents itself as a memoir of an Inuit women who grew to become an international spokesperson for the Inuit peoples of the polar region (five countries where the Inuit live, including Canada, Alaska, Greenland and Russia).
What lies behind “mom’s” comment is, I believe, an inability to move beyond the concept of a singular individual presenting a memoir to the collective memoir of a people. It is a specific inability of our modern Western culture that is becoming more and more evident – and pathological.
While the idea of the individual as an important centre of attention, came into its own through the time of the Enlightenment in Europe, the earlier period in Europe as also among Indigenous peoples throughout human history has been much more collective. The inability of many at this time to place themselves in this latter framework is one of the important reasons why we are increasingly unable to deal with global issues.